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National Geographic 2008 International Photography Contest

National Geographic 2008 International Photography Contest

Sugino writes this caption to her photo, “In Japan, ancestral spirits come back to their families in mid-August every year. People provide rest for the ancestors’ spirits for three days and then send them back by putting them on lanterns to drift down river.”

What is missing is a description of the Obon Festival and the legend behind it:

A disciple of the Buddha wished to release his mother from the realm of suffering. Buddha instructed him to make offerings to his fellow monks on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. The disciple did this and his mother’s release also opened his eyes to her personal history and the sacrifices that she had made for him.  Oban became a time in which ancestors and their sacrifices are recognized and appreciated not only through ritual, but by recognizing that tradition through community service and celebration.

While it’s true that many cultures participate in some form of ancestor worship, I’ve always thought that ghost lanterns on water, viking ships on fire, and fallen leaves on a stream were the poetic counterpoints to our experience of life.

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Headstone in Fernwood Cemetery without name or dateSometimes I’ll run across something interesting and hold onto it, waiting to write because not only am I sure something related will show up to give it context, but it gives me time to reflect on the connection it makes with the others. This week it was grave markers.

I received a call last week from a trade magazine, Stone in America (unfortunately not online). They had found my blog and were interested in the reasons for its genesis. It was a difficult question because as with all interests and hobbies, it can’t be distilled to a single answer. It’s the result of a love for storytelling, art and history. And conveniently that trinity is reflected in the visual stories embodied in epitaphs and tombstones. Take this item titled Comic Epitaphs from Today’s Inspiration, a blog focusing on illustration from the 30s and 40s. Leif likes the drawings, while I’m more interested in the words. Our focus is different but our interest is shared. It’s a stretch believing these are truly taken from actual headstones since there’s no more detail about them. But maybe they were never meant to truly be used as epitaphs, only as a way for folks to find a little light humor in the inevitability of death. A little mystery surrounds them.

Today their equivalent is becoming more technically sophisticated. No more colorfully illustrated and mysterious chapbooks to be found at the back of a bookstore. Now we seem to expect a whole “rich media” experience right in the moment. Which isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just mindbogglingly different. The latest trend in Japan employed by a memorial stone maker there uses sophisticated graphical bar codes (called QR codes which are related to, but dissimilar from RFID chips). They are inexpensive to produce, will likely have a longer lifespan in terms of access, and can be easily read by cell phones with cameras. The idea is to point and click your camera phone at one of these bar codes and, with the right software installed, the image will link you to a web page with more information about that physical object (as long as a web page is maintained of course). It requires you use less of your imagination, but provides a whole new world of information you never would’ve had access to before. Is it art or storytelling or both? Same could be said of Stonehenge. And perhaps someday people will look at these tiny QR codes embedded in monuments wonder at them in the same way. (Thanks to Karen for the tip!)

Japanese cemeteryThis is a beautiful telling of the week long series of events surrounding a Japanese (Shinto) funeral. Despite having spent time in Japan, and being privileged enough to visit some amazing cemeteries, as gaijin such a level of participation in a culture’s traditions (along with weddings) is of course very rare. If you’re interested in a fictional tale that recounts similar cultural differences then you might enjoy an entertaining book called American Fuji . It is about an American professor who loses her job teaching English and eventually becomes employed at a Japanese “fantasy funeral” company. I find it comforting that there are so many ways to celebrate a person’s passing and yet our need to honor the dead in some way meaningful to us is universal. Traditions are imploding and exploding everywhere – everything is coming together, for better or worse, and we can no longer pretend we’re all living in different worlds because we’re on different continents.” –Philip Glass

There is Nothing Wrong in this Whole Wide WorldIt’s my fascination with human nature, the natural curiosity of an amateur cultural anthropologist and my inbred librarian proclivities that compels me to ferret out the things people search for online. Today I wandered over to del.icio.us out of the same mysterious force that propels you down that darkened alleyway or that deserted stack of books in the back of the shop. Inevitably it remains fascinating the information people feel is worthy of saving and sharing, especially when they match interests you didn’t know you had. For instance, this list seems to make the odds of you dying in your sleep even more remote than usual. This information goes to show you don’t even have to be dead to have people think of you that way. There even exists a patent for a talking tombstone. I wasted(?) hours combing through other people’s bookmarks which made me think of how bookshelves are intimate reflections of inner lives. I know it is extremely personal, and some people wouldn’t even think of sharing their reading habits, but you can tell a lot about a person just by looking at the books they save, and the bookmarks they keep. And since this is the end of “Banned Books Week” it’s also a good reminder that governments throughout time have been known to abuse your privilege to hold them dear.

thurmanoncompassion.jpgBob Thurman became a Tibetan monk at age 24. I was surprised to learn he was the first American and Buddhist scholar to be ordained by the Dalai Lama. In his Ted Talk, (filmed in 2006 and posted just recently) Thurman has some great things to say about self awareness despite couching it in terms of technology which I suppose is due to the nature of the venue. But he really gets rolling around the six minute mark. It struck me because I’ve always considered how heartbreaking it is to be compassionate if it means taking on another person’s pain. He explains this paradox of how embracing someone else’s pain actually makes us see ourselves differently. And most remarkably, the way to help those who suffer is by having a good time. You have to listen to him to really make sense of this, but in part the key to compassion is that it is more fun (and by this I think he means rewarding) than focusing on only yourself. He asks, what is our brain for if not for compassion? What is it for indeed…not to worry about how we achieve our own happiness in this lifetime, but contributing daily to the happiness of another is our brain’s greatest gift. So to heck with all that worry about my next paycheck, who will I make happy today?!

speaker.gifIn a recent eulogy I heard the pastor recite Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, “To every thing there is a season…” and it pinched because although I know he meant it as a source of comfort, it reminded me of that other old saw, “timing is everything.” Damn, why must my timing always be so different from yours? And which season would death best fit anyway? We are learning the physics of time is an artificial construct but one thing scientists seem to agree on is that, like the universe, it is constantly flowing away from us. How do you capture the time someone spent on earth in the few minutes allotted to you at a memorial for it? Some people are suddenly inspired and bring that person to life because it is “the most important thing they’ll ever do.” They don’t talk only about themselves, unless doing so involves the whole audience. They might not even talk at all.
When Einstein lost his lifelong friend, Michele Besso, in a consolation letter to Besso’s family he wrote, “Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” It is a heartfelt sentiment, but I’m sure he was as frustrated with that stubborn illusion as I am. It could be that dream time is the only other illusion where we are still able to join those whose time for us has come and gone and where what we say doesn’t matter as much as that we remember.

UPDATE: To go with the post, a very sweet tune called Time by Kelley McRae (nice site but I sure wish Flash would let me link directly to the song). Thanks Lux! My, but she is Patsy Cline reincarnated and I’m only sorry I won’t get to see her as St. Joan.

panslabrynth.jpg“I venture to suggest this solution to the ancient problem: The Library is unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveler were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: The Order). My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope.”
(Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths (1964). The Library of Babel, p. 58)

I feel my life is a maze at times, and a labyrinth at others. When I run into what feels like a dead-end or when I come to a fork in the road, then it’s a maze. When I feel that I’m on the right path, or that something good is about to happen, I speed up and take the obvious and straightforward way. Mazes are a game of logic (or a confrontation of fear) and labyrinths are a meditation or prayer. So it depends on your perspective, is life a game or a river predestined for you that flows naturally from birth to death? Or is it both at different times? The only thing I know now is that when your in the middle of one, turning back doesn’t seem to be a viable option.

So I’m taking a break from this journal for a few days. I’ll be back in a bit, after a few more turns.

1800 funeral cardMy mother was the youngest of 16 children. Yes, I’ll say that again for effect. Sixteen, and no twins. Being the youngest she was also the last to die. I’m sure this was extremely hard on her, yet after a while attending all the funerals became so ritualized she could put herself on auto-pilot in order to make it through. As a child I witnessed many of these Catholic mass rituals. One of them always reminded me of the hobby of collecting trading cards and I would think it is strangely related to the custom of cabinet cards in the early 1900s because those cards were also used as memorial cards after death around that time. What she collected were the prayer cards (I’ve actually never heard them called holy cards) handed out at every funeral and mom had quite a collection from not only her own family, but from other family and friends too. Some of them were very beautiful, usually had quotes from scripture but most were on hard card stock in full color. She would sometimes tuck them in her bible or put them in strange places, like a sock drawer so that she would be reminded of these people at different times.

I was talking with Cathy once about keepsakes. About how we all tend to keep something small and “clutchable” of someone (like a lock of hair) we once knew and how the digital world takes that away from us. Another example of the changes in American cultural history at play. Who would you rely on if you wanted something like that to be handed out at your funeral? Would you just leave it to chance? Or would you want to design something more personal? I have some very creative friends. I would truly love to see what they would come up with. Maybe someday I will have a party where the guests will all be asked to create a memorial card with my digital camera and the mountains of art supplies I have lying around. Now wouldn’t that be interesting?

wafers.jpgEven though I don’t cook I watch the cooking porn shows on tv. Watching good cooks effortlessly whip up something in 30 minutes plus commercials fascinates me. Most comfort foods are uniquely personal. I like breakfast, and in particular oatmeal pancakes and eggs. They take me back to North County San Diego, a little diner that no longer exists, and overcast beach days that keep the tourists away. In a much less complicated way soup kitchens and bread lines bring daily comfort to thousands. Everyone has comfort food that mixes with a comfort memory and produces a comforting mood. What no one mentions is if comfort food has any connection to this (or this) because it seems that at least a few people think so.

dyingwell1.jpgI’ve learned so much after the fact from reading about death and grief practices it’s a marvel to me how little thought I gave the process until I was directly impacted by it. Maybe that’s the way we all deal with it, or not. Wendy recently sent me a quote from Ira Byock, a well-known and respected hospice doctor who has written and presented on the topic for patients and caregivers. This is his take,

“Often the term ‘good death’ is used to describe the goal of terminal care. It has the disadvantage of connoting something that is static and formulaic. Furthermore, it perpetuates the confusion between death -about which we know nothing- and dying, the personal process of living with progressive decline and impending demise. The phrase ‘dying well’ seems better suited to describe the positive end of life experience that people desire. in conceptualizing ‘dying well’ and the related notion of ‘wellness in dying’, it is not necessary -and would be misleading- to glorify the experience. Dying, even for those who attain a sense of wellness, is rarely easy and may, instead be arduous and unpleasant.”

Death, like birth, may involve struggle that we don’t expect. A painful, protracted, agonizing trauma. How does one prepare for that? Or maybe that’s why we instinctively chose not to think of it until it happens. We take birthing classes but devote little study to our inevitable departure. Maybe we just need death midwives as guides to help us with through the pain. (Although not directly related to dying well, the POV film is available on Netflix and the PBS website is beautifully structured resource of historical information on death practices I’ll continue to reference. Thanks Wendy!)

bmtemple.jpgWhere is it okay for you to cry? In a room alone? Usually that’s where most of us do it. I was chatting with a friend this weekend about supportive communities for people grieving any kind of loss (divorce, death, abandonment) and the topic of places where it feels safe to cry came up. Of course there are grieving centers across the country, usually for teens and children but generally supportive of anyone in need. They provide counseling to help people move on and cope with loss. Their mission is not to create sanctuaries that silently allow people to openly show and share their grief.

Then I remembered the temple built at Burningman in 2001. If you haven’t heard of this yearly festival in the Nevada desert just search on the term and you’ll find enough social analysis and fan pages to keep you busy for months. Fundamentally it is a gathering of people who challenge perceptions of art and intentional community in a big way and you’ll always hear “burners” speak with a kind of awe about their whole experience–but the festival and its community are not exactly what I’m focusing on here. What fascinates me are the temporary temples built out on the Playa by installation artists David Best and Jack Haye and a crew of dedicated builders each year. Their structures constructed out of salvaged materials, elicit powerful reactions and are stunning and emotionally powerful spaces.

The Mausoleum or “Temple of Tears” was built to allow visitors to grieve death in a social space without having to analyze their reactions. During the event its altars were stacked with contributions, mementos, and tributes to the dead, and participants covered its walls with inscriptions. On entering the silence and focused attention of the crowd gathered there was always apparent. This complex and eloquent monument to the departed moved many people to tears. Pilgrims visiting it were encouraged to write prayers on the walls, mourning loved ones and commemorating those who had passed away. At the end of the festival, Best hosted a mass ritual of grief and burned his masterpiece to ash. And then he built another one, and another and another.

Art therapy often helps people overcome grief through the creation of talismans or ritual tools from found and discarded materials. They become physical symbols of pain and catalysts for creative catharsis. The social ritual of burning this amazing work of art was as powerful as seeing the structure constructed. Just think if there were the possibility of this kind of artistic ritual incorporated into the grieving process more often how liberating it would be.

boatman.jpgAll cultures have funerary literature. The ones that come to mind most frequently are The Egyptian Book of the Dead which provided instructions for the soul’s journey to the next life and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, that has Buddhist monks guiding the souls of the dying through death to their next incarnation. In the Christian tradition it has been guardian angels that have acted as the soul’s guide to paradise. The hymn In Paradisum invokes the angels to escort the soul to heaven, and is still sung at Catholic funerals and around Easter.

I had no idea my left ear was so important.

Here’s a documentary produced by the Film Board of Canada in 1994, and narrated by Leonard Cohen. (In two parts, part 1 is 47 mins long, part 2 is 45 mins long. Save them for a day when you have a little free time.)

“…this enlightening two-part series explores the sacred text and boldly visualizes the afterlife according to its profound wisdom.” A Way of Life” reveals the history of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and examines its traditional use in northern India, as well as its acceptance in Western hospices. Shot over a four-month period, the film contains footage of the rites and liturgies for a deceased Ladakhi elder and includes an interview with the Dalai Lama, who shares his views on the book’s meaning and importance.

(found on the Cynical-C blog who also posted something on Timothy Leary and his reinterpretation of this book as a basis for his psychedelic experiments)

http://www.stonepages.com/wales/maenllia.htmlWord of the day, necrogeography. What an interesting word. I will need to add it to my other list of interesting words. It is the study of the changing morphology of cemeteries. According to this article (I’d link to it but I’m afraid of the copyright police – just search on the name of the author and you’ll find the pdf online – or ask me), it “…relates intimately to architecture, sociology, psychology and economics.”

My favorite line in the article is this, “I have reached the conclusion that the cemetery in the United States is a microcosm of the real world, and binds a particular generation of men to the architectural and perhaps even spatial preferences and prejudices that accompanied them throughout life.” Pretty interesting hypothesis which leads me to think of my current spatial preferences and prejudices and how they’ve changed over time. (I like tiny spaces, would that be relevant?) Of course a lot of the author’s efforts goes into analyzing the structure and size of formal western-style tombstones and the physical layout of cemeteries. But what about these kinds of markers? Not American granted, but stones weren’t always nicely carved with names and dates and conveniently placed. In fact if you’re a real rock hound you know that tombstones are really pretty recent in the scheme of things. And when you leave strange rocks behind, people tend to tell stories about them.

sakura.jpgThe ornamental cherry blossom is so much a part of Japan when I see the cherry and plum trees blooming all over the valley now it brings the same emotional reminders of that place and the meaning the symbol holds for the Japanese (and for Americans too). The metaphor represents the ephemeral nature of all life and you’ll see it in many movies where the point is to remind you that life is short, the bloom on the tree is temporary, beautiful and fragile. The tree is called sakura and the public watch for the sakura zensen, or cherry blossoms like we wait for the leaves to change to their fall colors in the Northeast. Full bloom typically hits Tokyo at the end of March or the beginning of April when the ground gets seriously slippery with the pink petals. Parks, shrines and temples attract groups of “flower viewing parties” known as hanami and this custom dates back to the 3rd century. Around here the ornamental cherry and plum trees are already in full bloom. The petal showers will start soon, like an Akira Kurasawa movie. Stop and inhale. Appreciate the moment, it is fleeting.

Update: Very interesting art project called Cherry Blossoms that really brings this point home. (From We Make Money Not Art).

pres.jpgI survived Catholic school. Actually I think I had a good education but it was on the progressive side and it was in California. And my mom actually let me go to a Jewish summer camp with my friend so perhaps that’s why I have such an open attitude towards all kinds of belief systems (and wish I were Jewish during the holidays). Still, aside from the good things it gave me, like confidence in my abilities and a belief in the benefits of volunteerism, it was an indoctrination of sorts which often results in an overall anti-religion backlash (the real camp in the film closed because of negative reactions). This is why I have mixed feelings on a report from the Hoover Institute, “Can Catholic Schools Be Saved? Lacking nuns and often students, a shrinking system looks for answers.” Is there a magic formula for melding private and public education? And does it involve some kind of spiritual element?

My favorite nun, Sister Constance (yes, I still remember her from fifth grade) taught me guitar and we sang Blowing in the Wind together. She was a very cool human and made me wonder at that young age what her life was like. I still think being a monk is an honorable profession. Or that working here would be fascinating. My friend Wendy has applied to Naropa University and I’d be envious if my education didn’t teach me that’s the wrong reaction to have. I’m just hoping she’ll share some of her experiences down the road. In the meantime you can brush up on your cultural studies with a free online lecture in World Religions here. You can even say you took a summer class from Harvard (just don’t mention that you’ll need an updated Real Audio plug-in for your browser and a high-speed internet connection).

Ophelia Festival 2007All this rain has me thinking, there are two camps of people, those who are annoyed by rain and those who revel in it. Around here the earth has submersed herself to drink deeply. There are puddles everywhere and the toads are singing. Water is a miracle liquid for so many things. We don’t just bathe in it but we come from it. We spiritualize it by baptizing our babies in it, we fight over it, and use it for torture, and we have agencies to forecast for it. I had a roommate I shared a running joke with. Whenever anything would go wrong, a bad date, a bad haircut, a bad day at work, or we’d just wake up feeling sad the first thing we’d tell the other is, “take a bath.”

Water obviously displaces your weight and your blood pressure drops, but in many cultures bathing is also something more than that. When I was in Japan the idea of a communal bath is a ritual and part of their culture and one they credit as resulting in a well-socialized public. If you ever get to San Francisco you I highly recommend a visit to this place. It will give you a good idea of what I’m talking about. It’s a spiritual experience that will have you appreciating water in a whole new way.

(Image from the Italian 2007 Ophelia Fesitval)

mandala(What would the Dali Lama Do?)

For the last week there have been six Tibetan monks visiting Sacramento (and who are on a peace tour of California) and demonstrations to local school children of their sand mandalas have been on the news. I’ve always loved the intricacies of mandalas and admired such devotion required for something so temporal. Like Andy Goldsworthy who makes his art from found objects in nature, both artforms embody the beauty of creation for its own sake.

Even though it has been around for a while I thought I’d post a reminder from the Dali Lama called Instructions for Life. I especially am fond of the quiet humor in #19. In fact, isn’t love like cooking and vice versa?

INSTRUCTIONS FOR LIFE

1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
3. Follow the three R’s:

Respect for self
Respect for others and
Responsibility for all your actions.

4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
8. Spend some time alone every day.
9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.
10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.
12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
13. In disagreements with loved ones deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.
14. Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.
15. Be gentle with the earth.
16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.
17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
19. Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.

(Image from Namgyal Monastary Institute of Buddhist Studies)

Roadside shrines in Buenos AiresOne of my favorite subjects in folklore study is the roadside shrine. Every culture has them, from folk Shinto and their spirit kami to the Irish who have a long standing folk tradition of marking deaths in open places. There is one down the street from me now, a boy was killed on his bicycle. A reminder of death and danger as well as a significant place to go, a special place because he traveled it on a daily basis, back and forth to school. I have heard that authorities like to remove these memorials because they are distracting, because they are messy and unsafe. But people still create them because they need to.

I sense that this event on MySpace is similar,

Matt Frank had been dead for eight hours when the first goodbye message to him was posted on his MySpace page.
The note was short and simple: I love you. I’ll miss you.
Dozens more followed, as disbelieving friends took to the Web to mourn the 17-year-old and three other teenagers who were killed Sunday when a car — crammed with nine passengers — slammed into a utility pole after a late-night house party in suburban Chicago.

The article goes on to say how much the family appreciates the short notes left behind by their friends along with the hope that this page will remain a memorial and not be taken down by the provider.

It is natural for people to visit the places important to the dead. Whether it’s online or off. There is a new company dedicated to preserving space online for just that reason called Respectance.com (see sidebar for their blog). Their service is still in beta now, but eventually it will be an online space where you can leave and share memories that will remain, whether it’s poetry, pictures or video. It is like creating an online shrine to not only your own beloved but for visiting the shrines created for others too. The only thing missing is a sense that the person was there. And I think that’s one of the more difficult battles for companies trying to help out our increasingly fractured communities in such a way. It’s like visiting a memorial at a gravesite. Once you’ve paid your respects, is there reason to make the pilgrimage back again someday? For some there will be. (Thanks to Matty for the tip. Photo credit: tinyart)

Ghanian coffins from AfricaThere are so many sites and ideas about the ways to dispose of a body its really overwhelming and hard to keep up with. Nearly any keyword search you do in combination with coffin or burial you’ll come up with inventive ways humans have conjured to make sure the body is safely packaged, or recycled, for its return journey to dust. Makezine.com even has a few creative suggestions on burial. There was a site I saw that I can’t find now about making your own willow basket casket but they seem to have discontinued it. Oh, and then there was that taxidermist…but that’s probably still a taboo idea for people. Personally I used to want to be cremated and have the ashes mixed with metallic fleck paint to be spray painted on something fast, something like a rocket. After all, if Gene Roddenberry and Timothy Leary finally made it into space, why not me? But lately I’d be content to just be turned into fireworks. There are people who want their remains crushed into diamonds, and people who want to be buried in me-pods. In every culture from the nomads of the Eurasian steppe to the pyramids of Egypt we have always wanted to give our loved ones a good send off.

Now the most recent amusement I’ve spotted is actually a virtual one in the online community SecondLife. For those who haven’t heard of it, well, you obviously have better things to do with your time. But it’s a growing community (complete with several community libraries and dedicated librarians) and you know it’s serious when companies start to explore marketing opportunities there. Like the Dutch funeral company who has decided to hold a “coffin design contest”.

Entries will be photographed and displayed at the Bogra office during March, after which a jury of experts will select the winner, which will be “taken into Real Life production by Bogra Netherlands. This coffin will also be displayed at (international) funeral fairs as the first coffin that has been designed in an online community.

I love it. Avatars designing virtual coffins for companies selling real coffins to humans. I think I’ll stick to my Thai spirit house. At least I don’t have to worry about where I’ll keep the leftovers. (Photo credit: Walt Jabsco)

Pebbles on a headstone at a Jewish cemeteryRecently I attended a Jewish funeral and was touched by the tradition of leaving small pocket-sized stones on headstones. I remember seeing it at the end of the movie Schindler’s List but it never struck me as something many families did until just recently. I remember flowers always being such a big tradition in my own family. My mother would make it a point of never visiting a graveyard without something to leave as a marker of her visit, but it does strike me that those flowers die and wilt and look sad and often even leave a mess for the caretakers to clean up afterwards. Just strange to me that flowers are never part of the Jewish mourning process. I wonder though, do the pebbles just pile up and end up making a mini-cairn that overflows the headstone? Or do they too get removed by the groundskeepers so that more can be left another day?

There are other fascinating Jewish mourning traditions that I wish more of us would adopt. The idea of “sitting shivah” is something so valuable that I’m surprised more cultures don’t emphasize it more. Here is what that site has to say about it,

People pay “shivah calls” to fulfill the mitzvah of nihum avelim, comforting the mourners. These visits demonstrate community concern at the time of loss. The visits help the mourners over the feelings of isolation or desertion, both of which are natural feelings after the death of a loved one. Even if many people have gathered, those present should be sure a party-like atmosphere does not develop. Conversation should center on the life and memories of the departed. Contrary to popular belief, talking about the deceased is helpful to the mourner. Such conversations help the mourner to begin the process of getting over their grief. If you have been through a time of personal grief and the mourner asks you how you felt or how you managed, share your own experience. Mourners often take comfort in knowing that others have experienced similar feelings.”

A mitzvah is a commandment, and a physical act of kindness. It is as important a commandement as the rest of those you hear so much about. Pretty different from sending a sympathy card and I’m sure very difficult for any of us to do this busy day and age.

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